The first Republican presidential debate to feature new frontrunner Rick Perry just ended. I saw two plausible presidents up there — Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Huntsman at this point is on nothing more than a personal ego trip.
Can Romney stop the Perry juggernaut? In large measure it depends on whether Perry’s ignorant, offensive performance tonight comes to be understood as ignorant and offensive. His anti-science views on global warming, his “Ponzi scheme” remarks on Social Security and his stumbling, almost incoherent speaking style should all be disqualifying. They’re not, and that says a lot about the modern Republican Party.
As for Romney — he’s simply not a smooth public performer, and I suspect it’s because he knows he’s surrounded by extremists and doesn’t dare say so.
I live-blogged the debate, which follows.
8:11 p.m. We begin with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry mixing it up while the other candidates are bystanders. Perry says Michael Dukakis created jobs at a faster rate than Romney, and Romney responds by saying the same was true of George W. Bush. Given who the audience is, I’d say Perry got the better of that exchange.
8:19. The backdrop is red, pink and orange. Very disconcerting.
8:20. Herman Cain was the first candidate to invoke God, and Newt Gingrich was the first to say “socialist.” Shall we have a drinking game? Maybe a glass of milk everytime Romney says “gosh”?
8:22. Romney’s explanation for why Massachusetts needed a health-insurance mandate is identical to President Obama’s explanation for why the U.S. needed a mandate.
8:28. Romney is getting creamed on health care. No good deed goes unpunished. It would be interesting if he turned to his fellow candidates and asked, “Why won’t you admit that the health-care mandate was a Republican idea?”
8:30. Far be it from me to defend the news media. Their behavior at these forums is frequently farcical and worse. But Gingrich’s rant against the media’s attempt to stir up trouble among the Republicans was as cynical and ludicrous a ploy as we’re likely to see all night.
@TPM puts it better: “Gingrich to moderators: Stop trying to make us debate!”
8:36. My former Guardian editor Richard Adams is writing a hilarious liveblog about the debate. One quibble: he refers to Gingrich as an “idiot loser.” Technically, he hasn’t lost yet.
8:45. No one has laid a glove on Perry. And Romney has disappeared.
8:50. Attacking Social Security has always worked so well for the Republicans. Good to hear Perry go there. Here are the facts about Social Security.
8:56. Well, this is interesting. Romney made an effective case for Social Security, and took it right to Perry — who responded with a semi-meltdown in which he doubled down on his “Ponzi scheme” nonsense and whined about being attacked. Perry’s stance is wrong and irresponsible on the merits, of course, but it won’t matter unless this gets highlighted as an important moment. (And no doubt everyone is dying to hear more from Cain about “the Chilean model.”)
Oh, good grief. Perry now is saying he feels like “the piñata at the party.” Does this guy have a glass jaw or what?
8:59. What Romney is thinking (I think) on Gardasil: Every one of you is nuts to oppose a simple measure that would protect the health of teenage girls, but I don’t dare say it in front of this crowd.
9:04. The skies have been remarkably safe in the 10 years since 9/11, and all anyone wants to talk about is abolishing or changing the FAA.
9:07. Would someone please vote Newt off the island?
9:08. Now we know why the debate couldn’t be held in Arizona.
9:12. Ah, illegal immigration. I miss Tom Tancredo. Remember his double fence, so that anyone trying to hop over the border would get stuck in the middle?
9:15. Has anyone noticed how much better Michele Bachmann is at this than Rick Perry?
9:19. Every so often, Ron Paul sounds like the most rational person up there. His remarks on illegal immigration were humane and sensible — in stark contrast to everyone else up there. Unfortunately, you can’t have that Ron Paul without the Ron Paul of the $300 silver dime.
9:26. Perry joins the rest of them in saying he would reject a deficit-cutting detail that specified $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Now Huntsman is saying “no pledges.” Didn’t he make the 10-to-1 pledge in the last debate?
9:31. “Keynesian theory and Keynesian experiments are now done,” says Perry. Every one of these people is an economic illiterate except for Romney, and even he’s pretending to be illiterate. Nearly all mainstream economists agree that the problem with the stimulus was that it was too small and too tilted toward tax cuts. Most of the money that did get spent merely offset cuts to state and local government. You can’t say Keynesian economics doesn’t work when it hasn’t been tried. And thank you, Ms. Bachmann, for endorsing Muammar Qaddafi.
9:40. When I hear Perry stumble through his ignorant answer about global warming, I find it’s much healthier to focus on how nice Brian Williams’ new haircut looks.
9:44. The crowd loves death.
9:46. I’ll give Brian Williams and John Harris credit: they have concentrated on forcing Perry to defend the full range of his nutty and offensive views. We’ll see whether it makes any difference.
9:49. Russell Contreras: “As a reporter who covers immigration among other things, I gotta ask…why they gotta have the Latino reporter ask the immigration question during the GOP debate?! Why not have him ask about, I dunno, space exploration.” Great observation.
9:50. And that’s a wrap.